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Monday, 6 December 1976

Mr SPEAKER - I have received a letter from the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) proposing that a definite matter of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion, namely:

The grim employment prospects for school leavers.

I call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.

More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their placesMrWILLIS (Gellibrand) (3.8)-Not for many decades have school leavers faced such daunting prospects for gaining employment as is the case this year. Within the next couple of weeks 200 000 teenagers will have come on to the labour market as they end their schooling and another 500 000 students will leave various tertiary institutions in search of jobs. Thus, altogether, there will be one quarter of a million young people searching for jobs and the reality is that many of them will not find one, at least not for some considerable time.

The reason for this appalling situation is the total failure of the Government's economic policy and its unwillingness to take no more than token action to assist young people to obtain jobs. It is not necessary for me to consider in any detail the failure of the Government's policy since it has admitted that by its decision to devalue which in effect means that it has torn up its previous policies and started again. However, it is highly revealing to analyse how incredibly unsuccessful this Government's policies have been, in regard to employment. The latest employment figures for all wage and salary earners in civilian employment are for September. The figures show that since September of last yearafter which month the then Opposition began to block Supply largely, it said, because of the poor state of the economy- to September of this year, a period of 12 months, the total number of wage and salary earners in civilian employment has gone up by the grand total of five hundred. So in the last year we have had an increase of 500 wage and salary earner jobs in this country.

In September 1975, the number of employed was 4 728 600 and in September 1976 the number was 4 729 100. That shows that there has been a minimal increase of 500 in the number of employed in the period when this Government's economic policies have been holding sway in this country. This is a dramatic example of the way in which this Government's economic policies have totally failed to turn on the lights for the economy as a whole and for wage and salary earners in particular. Furthermore, in that period the number of jobs available for males actually went down by 20 100; for females the number went up by 20 600, thereby making the 500 increase. But it is more interesting to compare the growth of 500 in wage and salary earners jobs in the last year with the normal growth of the labour force which is over 100 000.

The normal growth of the labour force would be well over 100 000, yet here we see that only 500 jobs have been created for wage and salary earners since September 1975. The Commonwealth Employment Service figures do not show any massive increase in unemployment. The unemployment figures as they stand at the moment are only about 7000 higher than they were at this time last year. Given the fact that we would normally have had an increase of 100 000 or more in the labour force and only 500 wage and salary jobs have been created, the only conclusion to which one can come is that there must have been a dramatic reduction in the work force participation rate and that there is therefore a substantial growth in hidden unemployment.

In other words, the official unemployment figures as published by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) dramatically understate the actual level of unemployment in this country. The Minister, in fact, has admitted the decline in the labour force. In his monthly Press release which draws attention to the employment figures as published by his Department, for the month of September he gave a labour force figure of 6.1 million. This figure is used to work out the unemployment rate, relating the registered unemployed to the labour force figure. In October, instead of a figure of 6. 1 million he gave a figure of 6 million. In other words, he has admitted in his Press statements announcing employment figures, that in the last couple of months the labour force in this country has declined. That can mean only, as I have said, that there has been a substantial reduction in the work force participation rate. At a time when we would normally expect the labour force to be increasing, it is going down. Therefore the official unemployment figures dramatically understate the level of unemployment, certainly by well over 100 000 and possibly somewhere in the region of 200 000.

In addition to that, the fact is that the Government has now changed its policy, as I have mentioned, and devalued the currency. Without wanting to spend any time on that matter, I quickly make the point that economist after economist in this country, and the newspapers -in particular the Australian Financial Review which is probably the most authoritative newspaper in these matters- have all rubbished the likelihood of devaluation helping recovery in this country. They point out that the action will be inflationary. They have pointed out that it will require a credit squeeze which will reduce internal demand and therefore reduce the prospects of more jobs being created. They have pointed out that it will involve a reduction in real wages and a substantial reduction in real wages at that. This will reduce internal demand again and reduce consumption which will reduce the chances of getting more jobs created. It will boost agriculture and mining but it will not boost the availability of jobs in those areas. Mining is very capital-intensive. Employment opportunities in agriculture are not likely to be dramatically increased either. Therefore the devaluation will not do anything for this country in relation to increasing employment. It is much more likely to result in an even greater increase in unemployment.

Apart from these matters, there are other factors which greatly affect school leavers in this country at thus time. The structure of unemployment is disproportionately concentrated among the young. The August labour force survey figures, which are the latest figures available, show that the unemployment rate for adult males is 2.9 per cent, for adult females 3.9 per cent, for teenage males 11.4 per cent and for teenage females 1 2.6 per cent. Thus for teenagers the unemployment rates are dramatically higher than they are for adults. This means that school leavers coming on to the labour market now have to compete with about 100 000 teenagers who are already unemployed. Thus they have competition not just from the mass of the unemployed as a whole but also from 100 000 people like themselves who are already unemployed, plus the 200000 unemployed and the 50 000 from the tertiary institutions who are coming on to the labour market now.

Many of the 100 000 who are already unemployed qualify for special assistance under the Government's special youth employment training scheme, which is a youth subsidy scheme and which applies to those young people who have been unemployed for 6 months or more. It follows that that excludes school leavers. School leavers will not qualify for the $59 a week subsidy for employment for which the young people who are currently unemployed qualify. The young people leaving school now face competition from 100 000 youngsters unemployed already, many of whom are subsidised. Therefore the competition for the school leavers is even greater and their prospects of finding jobs are even less. One way out of the difficulty would be to extend the subsidy to school leavers, to make it available to all employers of young people. But the Government has shown no sign that it is prepared to do that. One reason why it will not do that or why it is unlikely to do that, in my view, is that that would involve a substantial increase in outlay of funds, and the Government is all the time trying to avoid spending any money. Therefore is has to chop back on any stimulatory activity it takes.

In regard to apprenticeships also the Government has failed to come up with any program to reverse the current appalling situation in which the number of apprenticeship positions available is diminishing markedly. This year the intake was down 7000 on the level of 2 years ago. In addition, thousands of apprentices are reported to have been dismissed, particularly in such industries as the building industry in New South Wales which has been through very lean times. Employers are simply not taking on apprentices in an endeavour to reduce their costs. They are dismissing apprentices whenever business activity declines, as it has done for many businesses in the last year or so. Such a situation is extremely serious, not only for the young people who are being denied the chance to learn a trade, but also for the nation as a whole because it means that we are likely to face a very severe shortage of skilled workers if and when the economy recovers.

When Labor came to office it gave this matter of apprenticeship high priority. It introduced a National Apprenticeship Assistance Scheme which increased the expenditure on apprentices from $1.3m in 1972-73 to $37.7m in 1975-76. Under that program employers are paid an extensive subsidy for the first year of apprenticeshipbetween $1,248 and $1,872 per annum, depending on the age of the apprentice. A subsidy of $4 a day is paid also for apprentices while they are being trained off the job. That scheme was successful in raising the intake of apprentices but it is clearly not enough in the current conditions. Apparently the Government is not prepared to spend any more money on it. Month after month it has been trying to establish a scheme in co-operation with the States in which the States would have to share a substantial amount of the cost. So far the Government has not been able to get the agreement of the States to any such scheme. Therefore we have no proposal to expand apprenticeship training and we face a situation in which thousands of young people who want to be trained for jobs cannot get apprenticeships, and the nation is faced with a growing shortage of skilled labour. That is an absurd situation and one which must be rectified very quickly if the Government has any regard for the young people or for the nation as a whole.

In addition to that, the Government is now saying that it is prepared to contemplate increasing the migrant intake because it wants to overcome the shortage of skilled labour. That is an absurd situation. As I have said, hundreds of thousands of young people are looking for jobs. Many of them want apprenticeships. The Government is doing nothing about that but is talking about increasing migration to overcome the shortage of skilled workers. If that is not an absurd situation I do not know what is. The Government has refused to introduce any job creation programs. In our view, that is a scandalous situation. In the last Labor Budget there was an allocation of $150m for job creation programs through the Regional Employment Development scheme and employment creating grants to the States. But this year there is virtually nothing- a few thousand dollars. That situation is quite scandalous.

Apparently the Government has no intention of introducing job creation programs. It says that it will not do so because jobs are created in the private sector. The fact is that jobs are not being created in the private sector. It is absurd to say that three-quarters of the jobs are in the private sector and that that is where the stimulus must be provided. Whatever stimulus the Government has provided to the private sector has not worked. The number of jobs has increased by only 500 in the last year. Therefore the Government must take other action because demonstrably that action has failed. But the Government refuses to take that action, despite the pleas of the Opposition and of responsible bodies like the Brotherhood of St Laurence and the National Youth Council of Australia, both of which have put forward very detailed programs of job creation, particularly for youth. Those bodies are extremely concerned about the longterm effects of large numbers of young people being unemployed for a long time. Apparently the Government is not as worried as those organisations are.

It is also curious to note that in past recessions Liberal-Country Party governments have been prepared to introduce job creation programs. In the recession of 1961, in the recession of 1967 and in the recession of 1971 we had job creation programs. Those recessions were nowhere near as severe as the present recession in this country. The Government must answer the people on this question: Why is it that when the unemployment levels are so much higher, the Government is not prepared to introduce job creation programs to alleviate unemployment even in the worst affected areas, let alone generally? Why will it not in the worst affected areas take action to alleviate unemployment? The Government refuses to do so, and it is an absolute scandal.

Career guidance is another area in which the Government is demonstrably deficient in its action. Various surveys of young unemployed people have shown that one of the many problems facing school leavers is the inadequacy of vocational guidance, if they receive any vocational guidance at all. Apparently the Government is not worried about that. One of its economising actions was to scrap the Career Guide for Schools which is published by the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations in a number of States, including Victoria. It has scrapped the Career Guide this year. It will not be available this year, although the Government has made some noises about perhaps reintroducing it next year. The Government introduced without comment the report of the working party on the transition from secondary education to employment, which working party was set up by the Labor Government, although the report makes a lot of recommendations for career guidance progams and pre-vocational training.

In regard to the unemployment benefit, not only has the Government given school leavers scant help in relation to finding jobs but also it has said that they do not qualify for the unemployment benefit. Not only does the Government give them little chance of finding a job but, when they come on to the labour market, it also disqualifies them from unemployment benefits.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.

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